Monday, December 9, 2019

A Very December Q&A

I asked and you responded with questions that you asked so I could respond. We've got ourselves a chock-full Q&A tonight so let's get to it, shall we?

Ok good, we're starting the education Q&A off on the right foot. I use color safe shampoo and conditioner and dye it with professional-grade dye after a really good bleach because my hair is dark and needs to be lightened a whole lot.  The meaning of life, the universe, and everything is, as everyone knows, 42. Pineapple is yummy and goodness unless it's on a pizza. Cookies should have firmness to them, more on the crunchy side than the soft side.

 I stop when I feel like I've done everything I can at the moment. I think very long game a lot of the time when it comes to bigger problems because, frankly, I've got too much going on in my classroom to do any more than that most of the time. I work inside the system so I fight the fights I can and spend a lot of time teaching my kids to think and question and help bring down inequitable systems as they grow. I am doing the work too, but I can't kill myself fighting the system on a big scale. I'm doing my work well, writing when I can, marching when I can, and speaking for teachers. They want us to throw ourselves on our swords in exhaustion. Gotta outsmart them.

Redefine "weird" for yourself. Weird doesn't mean standing on desks with puppets and blue hair. Weird doesn't mean doing voices and a ton of making projects. Weird doesn't mean upending all the expected norms in big, loud ways. Weird is just unconventional, it's different. Everyone interesting does something outside the norm.

However! If you honestly don't feel like you're doing anything weird or different then I suggest starting by looking at what you consume. This is a big soapbox for me but watching Friends and The Big Bang Theory and listening to Coldplay will not invert your thinking. Buy an album that you're not sure you like, but you can't define why, and listen to it until you either like it or know why you don't. Buy something that sounds like noise. Watch a show you'd never watch. I deeply believe that you cannot put out what you're not taking in. What weird things do you consume? Honestly, deeply, strangely, confusing things than no one around you is watching, listening to, or talking about.

Morgan asked a TON of good questions, especially for an education student. I'm going to get to just this one because there's a lot of questions here and the rest are in the thread which you can find by clicking on her tweet.

I don't like Teachers Pay Teachers. I have investigated this for myself because I need to know why I have visceral reactions to things and I think there are two reasons. First- I started before the internet was a thing we could use for teaching. Every single thing I did in my classroom I built or stole from someone at my school. And I think that made me a better teacher. I had to depend on myself. There was no shortcut, no massive community at my fingertips, no easy way. I grant that this also makes me sound like an Old shaking his fist and grumbling, "You darn youths with your Teachers Paying Teachers and your Facebooks getting ideas without working for it!" But I think the struggle has a lot of value. Because of my second point- Every single thing you buy on TPT has to be changed to fit your classroom. Nothing from there should be used whole cloth with no modifications. They are built to be general but your classroom is not.

Steal ideas. Here's how I use Pintrest and TPT- I'll google an idea or a subject, find the skeleton of something, close it, and built it myself. Important Note- I like this process and the time it takes, and it takes a lot of time. New teachers do not have the bandwidth I have. But I think the struggle makes my lessons more creative and deeper. You're going to be doing a million things and those lesson plans right there are going to look real good. But they're easy to get addicted to, and there's zero difference between that and just using your curriculum whole cloth and thoughtlessly. Instruction should be flexible. But don't kill yourself.

I also think teacher should share what we make with other teachers for free. BUT we don't get paid much so I don't want to stand too firmly on that particular hill. Make your money.

African or European?

Oy, this is a whole lot!

I stay energized with a lot of coffee. Also I honestly love what I'm doing and I'm very happy where I am. I have as much freedom as I could ask for and I know that my admin (at least for the next three weeks) has my back. I also work with some other teachers, one in particular, who has my brand of crazy when it comes to projects and Big Ideas and he and I bounce off each other well.

I don't care if other teachers don't like how/what I'm doing. There's no conflict in that direction because I honestly couldn't care less if someone doesn't like my way. If I don't like their way I need to first evaluate if they're just different than me and I don't like what they're doing personally or professionally. If it comes up and it's a real concern I'll bring it up as tactfully as I'm able. But I do a lot of, "Watch me go, I'll model it my way as I run off doing my cool things with my happy students."

The most valuable thing I've learning in teaching is either- Have a hobby, have a reason to go home OR we live on singles and doubles and anyone who wants us to be hitting home runs all the time is selling snake oil.

I used to! Every Wednesday from 7-8pm PST #WeirdEd happened for over 200 chats. It was so much fun but I eventually ran out of gas because I believe twitter chats should mean something. They should be special. Most are the same mouthwash swishing to the other cheek. Same questions rephrased. Same answers. Right answers rather than a chat to actually talk and exchange ideas. Authors asking questions from their own books and then quoting themselves in their answers to their own questions. "Themed" chats that aren't- "Welcome to Star Wars chat! You have to pass certain tests to become a Jedi. How do you handle tests in your classroom?" That's got nothing to do with Jedi, it's am act!

I don't. This starts right at the beginning of the year- first day. I don't assign seats and I don't assign desks and I don't keep track of who has sat on what when. I have more important things to deal with. This is because Trust is a Number One foundation of my class and if you don't trust your students to find a place to sit and share, you don't trust your students. They know that too. Every morning everyone is expected to trade chairs. You can't sit in the same thing twice. They self-monitor and they appreciate the responsibility. I don't have an issue with it after the first week. They don't squabble over them either. I have a ton of different chairs, there's too many to fight over.

Don't assign chairs. If your classroom is built on trust you've gotta walk the walk. Students don't have to earn our trust. They should start with it.

Oh my. Ok, so I'm not great at this but I'll share what I do and I'd love more ideas in the comments. My intervention time is M, T, Th, F from 1:00-1:40, right after lunch. Some students get pulled out for various reading groups, the rest, about 20-22, stay with me. I have a Five Station Rotation-

  • Read To Self- Student read out loud into Flipgrid, and then watch themselves read back and count mistakes.
  • Vocabulary- I have a bunch of those Word, Sentence, Definition, Picture, Synonym worksheets and students use the week's vocabulary words.
  • Free Write- Write whatever you want.
  • Listen to Reading- We use Storyline Online and the kids listen to a story.
  • iReady Reading- Do iReady.

Each station lasts 20 minutes, so kids get to two a day. It's not perfect, I stole it from the teacher across the hall because she's better at stations than I am, but it seems to be working pretty well so far.

This could be (and I'm sure is) a whole book. So I'm only going to answer in one way with the caveat that it's not The Way and only an option.

Making stuff. Project-based learning and finding ways to incorporate making into the classroom is a great way to reach everyone. Good making projects mean everyone will create something different, they'll iterate their learning, and they'll work to their level on their own. You need to make reflections and stuff happen, there's no learning until the kids think about it, write about it, generalize it, and talk about it. But find opportunities to make something.

I'll give an example- We were reading a story in the Journey's book about tree kangaroos two years ago when I taught fifth grade. It was drier than a consultants PD session in the fourth hour. But in part of the story the book said that the researchers caught the tree kangaroos by climbing a tree and scaring the animal out of it, then netting it on the ground. We thought that was terrible, so I challenged my kids to come up with a better way. We designed traps. Students had to justify their design, and in doing so had to read the story because it had all the information about the animal. Your cage will trap the animal's tail. Why won't the animal leap out? How do you get the animal in and out without hurting it? It got detailed and amazing and they learned a ton from it. But you didn't need to read at a 5th grade level to have ideas, build them, or explain them.

One more, I think. This is starting to run long.

McGonagal was a Gryffindor, so that's probably the correct answer since she's easily the best teacher at Hogwarts. Though I bet a Hufflepuff would be good too for certain kinds of students. I worry than a Ravenclaw would get irritated with the kids who didn't catch on quickly enough and , well, Snape and Slughorn were Slytherins and one hosted dinners for his favorite students and the other literally abused a kid for seven years because his mom wouldn't date him.

I think personality goes a long way, but I also think that's a loaded statement I just made because it sounds then like there's A Personality that kids will like the best and we all know that's simply not true. I'm an extrovert who is loud and funny and unable to be serious for an entire day unless the room has REALLY screwed up. But I have quiet, calm, more serious friends who just have the mischief dancing in their eyes who's students like them just as much or more than mine like me.

I think the most important personality trait a teacher can have is the willingness to Yes and commit to it. Default to Yes in the case of new ideas. Complain when complaints need to happen, don't be a gross toxic positivity person smiling all the time like there's no war in Ba Sing Se. Push back on bad policy, but not just because it's new or sounds hard. Pick your battles. But default to Trying.

Ok, there's a ton of questions I didn't get to which you can find in this thread. Thank you to everyone who asked a question. I think we'll do another of these soon. It was fun.

If you like this post and the other posts on this blog you should know I’ve written three books about teaching- He’s the Weird Teacher, THE Teaching Text (You’re Welcome), and A Classroom Of One. I’ve also written one novel- The Unforgiving Road. You should check them out, I’m even better in long form. I’m also on the tweets @TheWeirdTeacher.

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